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Seemingly odd hardware design decisions

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Here are some I thought about recently:

 

-PC Speaker: no way to turn it down or switch off. It's probably not much of a bother when you were messing about with spreadsheets, but there are a lot of early PC games which can drive a man mad with their super loud, beepy attempts at "music".

 

-Atari ST's underside joy/mouse ports: not sure if all ST models were cursed with this, but my 1040STf is, and I hate it with a passion. It's extremely awkward and makes banally simple stuff like connecting a joystick a royal pain. What were they thinking?

 

-ZX Spectrum's whole-word BASIC editor: it made for a cute, colorful design on the keyboard, and I've also heard it was a good way to stop people making mistakes. But it was also rather cumbersome, and everywhere else the standard were free-typing editors (btw, is this a seemingly odd software or hardware decision? Hmm...)

 

It was tempting to call this thread something like "Completely crazy hardware design decisions" but I'm pretty sure they might have some valid explanations. So if you know one, or have more examples, post away!

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-Laser PC4 laptop (not sure if it applies to other laptops in the series as I only own the PC4): A bunch of ports on the computer but they're all, how do I put this, sealed. All the ports are covered like how the expansion slot on the NES is. The modem in/out port, the cassette port, everything. It also had an auto dialer built in, but with a sticker saying "don't try to auto dial because it doesn't work" or something of the sort on the underside.

 

-Slots on the back of pre-//e Apple IIs: Why the hell did they make it weirdly shaped so you need brackets to mount stuff?

 

-Spectravideo Compumate: Why does this exist at all?

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3 minutes ago, bluejay said:

-Slots on the back of pre-//e Apple IIs: Why the hell did they make it weirdly shaped so you need brackets to mount stuff?

That was the first thing I thought of when reading the thread title.

 

I can only suspect that it was cheap & easy to make those cutouts with the tooling of the time. Alternatively the Apple II expansion bus/slots were electrically wide and therefore cables would have many wires. And they wanted to accommodate any possible cable size as well as switches and indicators. It was the wild west and who knew what would be going in there.

 

The Apple II was made at a time when the industry was still finding its way. Evidenced by the extensive questionnaire with each warranty card. They wanted you to detail what you had in each slot, memory size, what software you ran, where you used your setup, what you planned to buy. And more.

 

Complete opposite of today where a company will spend $$billions$$ on half-assed marketing research tainted by assumptions made in the boardroom.

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The Sinclair ZX-BASIC keyword entry method meant the BASIC didn't need to include a parser to find a keyword. Compare the 4K ZX-80 BASIC with Altair 4K BASIC. Altair BASIC has a parser; ZX-BASIC has more features. 

 

Compumate would have been a fine concept if released in 1980. Add-ons to turn game machines into computers were a marginal player in the industry but could be profitable. By 1983, as the price reductions to full fledged computers occurred, an expensive keyboard add-on to a game machine was doomed. 

 

PC Speaker: All the 5150 speakers I had access to were very quiet. Not much point to wiring up a knob and variable resistor if the speaker is barely discernible. 

 

Covered ports make sense on any portable system since it keeps the pins in the port from being damaged or dirty as the system is moved around. Of course, the covers get knocked off quickly so the benefit is more marketing than practical. 

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2 hours ago, Krebizfan said:

Covered ports make sense on any portable system since it keeps the pins in the port from being damaged or dirty as the system is moved around. Of course, the covers get knocked off quickly so the benefit is more marketing than practical. 

No, it's like they're completely sealed so it can't be opened or accessed. Like I said, it's like the expansion port under the NES. I think they decided to cancel a bunch of functions AFTER they made the mold for the computer.

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The Commodore 1540/1541 disk drives were supposed to feed a hardware shift register. Several problems kept this from working and that made things slow. Incompatibility with the first few thousand units - or a recall - could have solved the problem for the next 20 million C= 64s.

 

TRS-80 Model I, III, and IV: no backspace key.

 

 

 

 

Commodore 64 fast loader comparison drive speeds.JPG

Edited by MHaensel
Clarified why lack of hardware shift register was a problem
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13 minutes ago, MHaensel said:

TRS-80 Model I, III, and IV: no backspace key.

That reminds me. Apple doesn't have a functioning backspace key either.

 

Also, Commodore PET: What the heck were they thinking when they came up with that layout?

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10 hours ago, youxia said:

 

-Atari ST's underside joy/mouse ports: not sure if all ST models were cursed with this, but my 1040STf is, and I hate it with a passion. It's extremely awkward and makes banally simple stuff like connecting a joystick a royal pain. What were they thinking?

The reason for the placement is that the joystick and mouse ports are connected to the keyboard controller.  The underside of the keyboard seems to be the only viable place where the connectors can be put and made accessible from the outside.  I guess it saved a few dollars in the BOM for the machine not having to put a separate I/O chip onto the main board, but rather use one microcontroller for all user input devices.

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Coleco ADAM: System power runs through the printer; proprietary stringy-floppy system as standard storage (which begets other weirdness like CP/M on tape); no BASIC in ROM, or anything else that functionally serves as an OS; system either glombs onto the front of a Colecovision game console (in Expansion Module form) or has essentially a standalone Colecovision board stuffed inside and kludged to the main ADAM board (in standalone form).

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The Olivetti spiral disk: The disk had to be removed from its protective shell and just the cookie placed in the drive tossing aside a decade of experience on how to keep dirt out of a floppy. The disk also had a code stamped into one side preventing storage of data on both sides. 

 

The Advance-86: All the ports were soldered into traces on the motherboard leading to the ports being mounted vertically. However, when the upper part of the case with the expansion slots was added, it was difficult to attach cables to the ports since the natural insertion was blocked by the expansion slots. 

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I'd offer up the Commodore 1541 disk drive as a whole.  The only reason it exists in the first place is that the 1540 was not compatible with the 64 because it was too fast.  By that time, Commodore already had the hardware bug fixed and could have made a fast disk drive for the 64 (like the 1571 was later to the 128).  But they chose to just make the 1540 even a bit slower so that it was compatible with the 64.  That was a dumb decision. 

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Atari and Commodore controllers: keeping the same old one button joystick when they were so obviously outdated.

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On 1/30/2021 at 1:47 PM, youxia said:

-Atari ST's underside joy/mouse ports: not sure if all ST models were cursed with this, but my 1040STf is, and I hate it with a passion. It's extremely awkward and makes banally simple stuff like connecting a joystick a royal pain. What were they thinking?

IIRC It only affects the non-Mega ST models with internal floppies.   (STf,  STfm,  STe and Falcon)  unfortunately, these are probably the most popular ST form factors. 

 

I think the reason is the joystick/mouse ports are part of the keyboard, and the keyboard is mounted at an angle in these cases.  If you take one apart, you can see there really isn't any better place to mount them in that case design..    Well I suppose they could have extended the ports via ribbon cable to somewhere better, but that would add cost.

 

This is the original 520ST with external floppy, and it had these ports in a great spot! 

 

atari520st-1.jpg

Edited by zzip
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Raspberry Pi - lack of power button/switch on many models.   It's awkward to have to unplug it to turn it off

 

USB - A single standard to connect all sorts of devices?   Awesome!   So why do they feel the need to change the connectors on one end or the other every few years?   It leaves you with a pile of USB cables that are not interchangeable!  

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On 1/30/2021 at 10:51 PM, Krebizfan said:

PC Speaker: All the 5150 speakers I had access to were very quiet. Not much point to wiring up a knob and variable resistor if the speaker is barely discernible.

Never had an original IBM, but  the Nineties most of my PCs were fairly loud in that respect. Perhaps it differs somewhat per model.

 

The one I'm using now for DOS (p4 fro Noughties) is excruciatingly loud.

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3 minutes ago, youxia said:

Never had an original IBM, but  the Nineties most of my PCs were fairly loud in that respect. Perhaps it differs somewhat per model.

Most clones I've seen in the 90s had extremely fragile speaker wires that tended to break easily,  and that was a good thing! 😄

Edited by zzip
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2 hours ago, zzip said:

USB - A single standard to connect all sorts of devices?   Awesome!   So why do they feel the need to change the connectors on one end or the other every few years?   It leaves you with a pile of USB cables that are not interchangeable!  

I think Nostalgia Nerd did an episode explaining why this was... It was interesting; check it out.

 

Power supply and joystick port on the side of Commodore computers: why does it have to stick out the side; it makes it difficult when you have multiple computers set up next to each other.

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Revisions of the USB specification includes an explanation of what was overlooked and how the new design corrects the problem. 

 

USB does have two common problems that other connectors have also suffered from. Stacked contacts like USB 3, EISA, or the high speed versions of SD cards can have the wrong pins hitting the wrong contacts if the plastic guides wear out. Having identical connectors with different properties is equally irritating whether its USB, IBM's keyboard and cassette or with the PS/2 keyboard and mouse, or the 25-pin parallel port connector that saw a lot of alternate (non-printer) uses. The worst is probably the external floppy connector that carries power and floppy controller signals over the parallel port. Leave it in parallel port mode; fry the floppy. Leave it in floppy mode; fry the printer. Hook the wrong floppy model since each company used a different cable; fry the floppy. So much potential expense for the user to save the manufacturer 50 cents. 

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IBM PCjr. Why didn't they make it 100% IBM compatible? Why did they use the awful infrared chiclet keyboard? Why did it use cartridges? Why does it even exist at all?

 

Mindset and TRS-80 Model 2000 (Tandy 2000): why the 80186?

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50 minutes ago, bluejay said:

IBM PCjr. Why didn't they make it 100% IBM compatible? Why did they use the awful infrared chiclet keyboard? Why did it use cartridges? Why does it even exist at all?

 

Mindset and TRS-80 Model 2000 (Tandy 2000): why the 80186?

 

If they made a budget, fully 100% compatible home PC, it would have undercut the IBM PC market, and they knew it.  If it was 100% compatible, and a lot cheaper, businesses would buy the cheaper option.

 

By making it into a kiddie, chickletized horror that nobody could do real work on, they ensured that would not happen.(until the clones opened that bottle FOR them)

 

 

There WERE some interesting things about the PCjr though, like the cartridge slot, which was able to completely override the internal ROM.  The only thing really missing from the cartridge slot was the -WE- line. Had they included it, then EMS solutions for the PCjr would have been painless, along with other memory mapped IO solutions.

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1 minute ago, wierd_w said:

 

If they made a budget, fully 100% compatible home PC, it would have undercut the IBM PC market, and they knew it.  If it was 100% compatible, and a lot cheaper, businesses would buy the cheaper option.

 

By making it into a kiddie, chickletized horror that nobody could do real work on, they ensured that would not happen.(until the clones opened that bottle FOR them)

 

 

There WERE some interesting things about the PCjr though, like the cartridge slot, which was able to completely override the internal ROM.  The only thing really missing from the cartridge slot was the -WE- line. Had they included it, then EMS solutions for the PCjr would have been painless, along with other memory mapped IO solutions.

Then it begs the question... Why did they make it at all?

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They saw the likes of the C64, and how it was stomping in europe, and they wanted in on the 'home market', but did NOT want the home market to bleed out the business market.

 

The red-headed stepchild of the PCjr was thus created.

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I remember there was a long article going into the development process for the PC Jr. It was one of those things where decisions made sense in isolation but collectively resulted in a bad product. Early Jr prototypes seemed close to what the Tandy 1000 became: a smaller PC with fewer slots and bays but with sound. Subset products with additional incompatibilities to prevent cannibalization of the main product tend to be failures.

The excess PC Jr chiclet keyboards were sold for industrial uses where the ability to resist dirt was worth the awkwardness of typing. It might have been perfect for a keyboard for grade school students who are unlikely to be touch typists but don't keep hands very clean. Testing didn't seem to include a classroom simulation which would have showed the problems with the infrared transmitter hitting the wrong machine. Home office users though were the probable audience given the price and that was a group that wanted a much better keyboard.

The PC Jr cartridges could have 64 kB of ROM each. Adding an additional 128 kB of RAM to load the same files from disk would have cost $200 so the cartridges kept the PC Jr cost down. 

 

The 80186 was cheaper than the 8088 and incorporated what would otherwise require additional support chips. 

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The video composite RCA output on the Amiga 500 and Amiga 2000. It outputs monochrome. What were they thinking, when even the 4-years older Commodore 64 had super sharp S-Video output.

The A520 rf modulator is an inergonomic abomination.

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